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Spotlight on our award-winning Wellington illustrator, Bonnie Brown of Studio Bon

Bonnie Brown was the winner of the Blunt + Idealog + Generator Umbrella Experiment earlier this year, which saw her design turned into a limited-edition Blunt umbrella that has now successfully sold out. Here, we get to know the freelance illustrator a little better – and find out what her plans are now that she has a product with her design on it under her belt. 

It wasn’t the easiest of briefs to task our audience with: sum up New Zealand’s modern identity as a nation through a design that is aesthetically pleasing and can be featured on the panelled face of an umbrella.

But 23-year-old Bonnie Brown relished the challenge and entered her Bloomin ‘Brella pattern in Idealog, Blunt and Generator’s umbrella experiment. The judges agreed that the intricate detailing is what made it the winning design.

While at first glance, Brown’s design may look like a floral print, on closer inspection, the design includes references to important moments from Aotearoa’s history, from the first waka arriving to New Zealand’s shores, to Māori mythology via Māui taming the sun, as well as a suffragette holding a protest sign and a same sex couple holding hands.

“I wanted to create a design that at first glance just looked like a bright floral print in my typical botanically incorrect style, but once you got a chance to look at it closely, then you could see there are different elements woven into the flowers,” Brown explains.

This isn’t to say New Zealand’s history is all sunshine and roses, she says. However, the country’s cultural, social and political history all contributes to New Zealand’s identity and how it is viewed on the world stage – and these key moments all play a part in that.

“I feel like we’re still in the process of figuring out what our modern identity is, and that you must acknowledge that this modern identity is directly influenced by past moments in our history and culture. Having the flowers as symbols of growth and change was important to the design, if perhaps a tad metaphorical, to show that our modern identity will continue to evolve as other moments shape our country.”

Brown’s win was announced at Idealog’s pop-up Design Magazine event held in May at Generator’s Auckland hub, with Brown flying up from Wellington to accept the award. She says having her design turned into an umbrella is both a great endorsement of her work as a designer and her pursuit to turn illustrating into a full-time career.

“There were some real standouts in my mind, and so to be a finalist and then the winner was incredible,” she says. “Considering I’ve only started illustrating and sharing my work recently, it’s a huge motivator to be told that what I am designing is interesting and also commercially viable.”

Coming into bloom

Brown grew up in Wellington and has always loved drawing, but decided to study architecture when she left school as a secure career prospect in the creative industries.

“I had studied architecture as a bit of safety net in that it combined creativity and promised more job security than pursing art,” Brown says. “Coming from a very low-income family, the financial security was appealing, but I’ve since realised that a lot of success just comes down to hard work, and luck, in any field.”

However, Brown wasn’t feeling fulfilled working at an architectural firm and begun sharing her illustrations on Instagram through the handle @Studio.Bon as a creative outlet.

People responded positively to her work from around the world, with international leather goods brand The Daily Edited approaching her to do some illustrations for a department store in Singapore.

Brown realised she might be able to make a career out of it, so in she 2017, she took a leap of faith, left her architecture gig and begun freelancing alongside a regular 9-till-5 job.

In the past year, she has done illustration work for Innocent Packaging, the World of Wearable Arts Shopping Guide, Miss FQ Magazine, PR company Showroom 22, Goodness Boutique, Wellington Woman Magazine, and more. She also illustrates brands, celebrities and bloggers that inspire her on her Instagram as a passion project, which has more than 3000 followers.

Brown says the goal is to make Studio Bon a full-time gig, and so far, she’s not too far off.

“I’m in the hustle stage where any minute I’m not working at my second job, I’m working on Studio Bon,” Brown says. “I’m extremely lucky in that I’ve only been working on my illustration seriously in the last year and I’ve already had the opportunity to work with some pretty cool local and international brands and businesses. The dream goal – no doubt for any illustrator – is a New Yorker cover, so I’ll keep on working until I get there.”

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